For Whom 1940 Tolls [1940 Week]

It’s 1940 week! Can you tell I’m excited? I am always looking forward to theme weeks in general because they provide a clear structure for me and they force me (well, by my wish) to post seven posts a week. Which is much easier when you can follow a clear guideline or a theme to build around. I’d do more theme weeks, if there were more popular. Anyway, on top of all of that this is finally an “old” theme week, something not just beyond what I actually experienced (everything back to the 80s) or even beyond what I know a lot about (the 60s and 70s). I don’t know much about this year or even decade, which makes this all the more interesting and exciting to me. Let’s get to it, shall we? (as they said in 1940, I guess).


As it’s 1940, World War II naturally plays an important role when it comes to news and events. The Soviet Union fights against Finland until they find peace. The Katyn massacre occurs, in which the Soviet Union orders the execution of about 22,000 Polish people. For the first time an African-American wins an Oscar and another is put on a post stamp. Germany invades Denmark and Norway. Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister of the UK, after Neville Chamberlain resigned. Germany invades Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The first McDonald’s opens. The concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau is opened. Germany takes Paris. The Soviet Union occupies Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. The Battle of Britain begins. Germany bombs London for 57 days, the Blitz. Hungary commits two massacres in Romania, killing over 200. Italy invades Greece. Franklin D. Roosevelt becomes the only U.S. president elected for a third term. Marcus Garvey, Paul Klee, Leon Trotsky, Neville Chamberlain and F. Scott Fitzgerald die.

Well, there is really not much beside WWII and overall this seems like a really dark year. I really wonder how people must have felt back then, with Germany invading country after country and the whole world really going at war more and more. No Nobel Prizes, no Olympics, major cities taken over or bombed, Eastern Europe slowly going to hell, no real hope anywhere.


Do you know any music from 1940? Yes, I wouldn’t have had an answer either. Interestingly, it’s the year that Billboard publishes its first charts, so we have some indication. Though what’s noteworthy here is that back then a “global culture”, which becomes so normal in later decades (and the fact that it is dominated by American culture), doesn’t exist in the same way. At the top of charts is Glenn Miller’s In the Mood, a song you probably recognize when you hear it. Apart from that? Frenesi, Only Forever, I’ll Never Smile Again? Ring any bells? A lot of Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and the likes. And people like Benjamin Britten, Samuel Barber, Paul Hindemith or Sergei Rachmaninoff publish new music, just in case you forgot that we are in different time.


It’s not the most influential year for movies either, despite some movies you might have heard of. Pinocchio and Fantasia are two Disney classics released this year. Also, Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator is released, which is weirdly relevant even more than 70 years later. Other notable movies of that year are Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story, John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath and the five director movie Thief of Bagdad. Box office hits like Boom Town, North West Mounted Police or Strike Up the Band didn’t really make a lasting impression. It also saw the release of one of the biggest German propaganda films, Jud Süß, which somehow didn’t appear at the Oscars that year.

I realized that I had not seen any movie from 1940 before, so this was really new territory for me (I had only seen Fantasia 2000, which doesn’t really count).

Be aware, again, that I might not simply pick the most well-known movies of the year, but the one that seem intriguing to write about. I can always come back to them at some later point since I want to see every movie ever released anyway eventually.


Some books from 1940: Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely, Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and Richard Wright’s Native Son. I haven’t read any of these unfortunately, so I can’t really say much about them.

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It was a successful year for comics as this was the so-called Golden Age. Just look at some comic series that debuted this year: Flash Comics, Batman (who had debuted as a character in Detective Comics the previous year), Doc Savage Comics and All Star Comics. Among the characters that were introduced this year are Catwoman, The Flash, Hawkman, The Joker, the Justice Society and Robin.

As expected, this will be a year of discovery and surprises since I simply don’t know very much. But that’s what makes this so exciting both because I don’t really know what to expect and because I will learn many new things about an unfamiliar time. And you will too, if you follow me through this week back to the past of 75 years ago. Have some old-fashioned fun!